As concerns rise in government over the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Boris Johnson is facing problems both abroad and domestically. The UK is withdrawing staff from the British embassy in Ukraine while ministers are attempting to manage expectations over how far the government will go in the event of an incursion — with a military response viewed as very unlikely. But back home, this is viewed as the week that could decide the Prime Minister’s fate over partygate.
While there is still no confirmed date for the publication of Sue Gray’s report into alleged Downing Street parties, the hope in No. 10 is that it will come mid-week. The Prime Minister will be given advanced notice — and a chance to go through it — before a summary is made public. Johnson’s advisers had hoped that it will reach them on Tuesday night, allowing Johnson to make a statement to the Commons on Wednesday. However, given the report has been delayed numerous times and evidence is still being given (former Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings is due to speak to Gray today), it has the potential to be pushed later into the week or perhaps even next week.
As for the contents of the report, the scope of the inquiry has been widened out once again. This time to include allegations of social gatherings in the Downing Street flat. Two senior government aides — Henry Newman and Josh Grimstone — are reported to have visited the flat several times during lockdown. The duo weren’t working in Downing Street at the time and are close friends of Carrie Johnson. The defence is that these were work meetings. There are also reports that police officers have now given evidence.
Where will it all lead? There is a hope among Johnson’s closest allies that MPs are calming down and are less likely to try to oust the Prime Minister than in previous weeks. A shadow whipping operation has been set up — including Johnson allies Nigel Adams, Conor Burns and Grant Shapps — to shore up support for the PM in the event of a confidence vote. But the mood remains low. A lot of the 2019 intake are upset over their treatment by No. 10 last week over the so-called ‘pork pie plot’; meanwhile payroll MPs are agitating privately while backbenchers are going public with grievances over the current operation. All this makes any vote rather unpredictable.
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